Continuing my goal for a bit of stress-free gaming, I’ve been sticking with more casual games by completing Scribblenauts Unlimited this week. This was my first experience with one of the Scribblenauts games. But I do enjoy the odd puzzle game to break up the more serious gaming. So did Scribblenauts Unlimited help stimulate my brain?
There are some significant feature differences between the console versions. The version I’m reviewing is on the PC so I can’t speak for the 3DS or Wii U features.
In Scribblenauts Unlimited, you play as Maxwell, a boy with a magic notebook that can bring any word he writes in it into reality. One day, while traveling with his sister Lily, the two come across an old man who asks them for something to eat. Being the mischievous boy that he is, Maxwell writes up a rotten apple for him. In retaliation, the old man curses Lily, causing her body to slowly turn into stone. The only thing that may cure her is for Maxwell to collect Starites, which can only be gained by helping people.
Scribblenauts Unlimited is more or less a pure puzzle game. To collect Starites, Maxwell has to help out the people he comes across. Most people will present with a vague suggestion of what they want & it’s up to you to think of an item. You simply type something in the notebook & it’s there. The items you can create range all the way from household items to Lovecraftian monstrosities. You’ll also come across quests that involve solving a series of puzzles in order to get a Starite.
Narrative: For the most part, the story in the game is just a bare-bones backdrop to wandering through the various levels. It does provide an adequate motivation for Maxwell’s journey, but doesn’t play a much larger role than that. The end message of the game is what you’d see in your typical Saturday cartoon show: do unto others as you want done unto you. Which I suppose is an admirable message, but it feels a bit inconsistent when you’ll probably spend most of the game tormenting the people you meet after you’ve gotten their Starites. Most of what’s going on in each level is unrelated to the other levels… or even anything else in the level. The individual quests are pretty unique & varied, though. One time you’re creating your own monster in a science class, the next you’re tracking down Santa’s murder. So overall, not bad but forgettable. Score: 3
Mechanics: I have to say, I was impressed with the sheer amount of things you can create in this game. The only real limitation is simply knowing the word. Not only can you create objects, but you can also add adjectives to just about anything & anyone in the game to various effects. Of course the game doesn’t allow for vulgarities & the like. I do wish, however, that there was a better search option. There was many times I couldn’t think of the word I needed to solve the puzzle. That in itself isn’t the fault of the game, but you can’t really search for words. The game will suggest words that match what it thinks you said, but it’s not always helpful. For example, I was trying to come up with the word vuvuzela (those obnoxious plastic horns that were popular at one time at sporting events) but couldn’t for the life of me come up with it. The game could do with a categorized search function. But another good feature is the freedom the game allows at solving its puzzles. It has a very loose understanding of what constitutes a correct answer. For instance, one puzzle said to give a sculptor inspiration. The correct answer (according to a guide) was “mannequin” but the game was more than happy to accept my “dancing fish.” Another example was to help an orca keep justice in the sea. A boring correct answer would be the add the adjective “righteous” to it, but I think my solution of having a cop ride the orca was a thousand times cooler. That being said, the game doesn’t really encourage these creative answers. A lot of solutions gets repeated, like adding the adjective “sleepy” when you have to get past someone without killing them or “magnifying glass” when someone’s looking for something. So overall, it has impressive freedom but doesn’t really encourage it. Score: 4
Aesthetics: The art design is bright, cheerful & simplistic. Everything in the game has this disjointed look, almost like they’re all marionettes. But it fits the tone of the game. The levels have a nice variety. Each section of the game has its own theme to the levels, such as a city or snowy mountain. I think my favorite levels were the haunted house & underwater city. The music is surprisingly good on some levels. There were a few times I stopped just to listen. And as I mentioned before, there’s no dialogue, just Sim-speak. But it’s always amusing to hear the people scream in fear when you do something naughty. The only voiceacting comes from Lily narrating the prologue & epilogue. This is done by Jennifer Hale, which always gets a bonus point in my book. Score: 4
Replay Value: Low. Technically you can beat the story before you’ve even visited all of the levels. You only need 60 starites to free Lily & there’s 106 in the game. You can reset all of the levels if you want to create more havoc, but you can only replay the quests. I’d say this is a one-&-done kind of game. Score: 2
Overall Score: 3
Final Word: Scribblenauts Unlimited has an impressive word library & some interesting puzzles to solve, but don’t encourage creativity as much as it could. However, if you’re looking for a child or family-friendly game, you can do worse.
Title: Scribblenauts Unlimited
Console: PC, Wii U & 3DS
Rating: E 10+
Developer: 5th Cell
Publishers: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, Nintendo Release Date: November 19, 2012